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Bloodhorse

Photos courtesy Benoit & Associates

By Claire Novak, @BH_CNovak, Blood-Horse

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens rode the first winner of his newly-launched comeback Jan. 12, getting the job done aboard Glen Hill Farm's Branding for trainer Tom Proctor in the first race of the day at Santa Anita Park.

"It feels great (to win again), especially for these connections," Stevens told HRTV's Christina Blacker. "We go a long ways back."

Stevens, who will turn 50 on March 6, returned to the races Jan. 6 at Santa Anita after seven years out of the saddle, and rode another mount Jan. 11. He notched career win 4,889 aboard the 3-year-old Street Sense filly, who was sent off at odds of 5-1 in her second start after running eighth first time out last June 28 at Betfair Hollywood Park.

The veteran reinsman settled Branding back in fifth, about seven lengths behind a quick early pace in the $56,000 maiden special weight contest at seven furlongs. He gradually improved his position approaching the turn, found a path between horses, and sent his mount to the lead about a sixteenth from the wire. Branding responded when roused to the task and widened her advantage with a big run along the rail, striking the finish three lengths ahead under a hand ride.

"My filly broke well and I was going to let her roll away from there," Stevens said. "She settled into a nice rhythm and they were getting with it the first quarter of a mile (up front). It was just a swell trip, the kind you draw up and it works out the way you want it to."

Branding returned $13.20 on a $2 win ticket. Bred in Kentucky by Royal Pegasus LLC out of the Storm Cat mare Awesome, she was a $250,000 purchase at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.

In addition to today's win, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems Inc., Stevens has won 135 races in six foreign countries (England, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan and the United Arab Emirates), which brings his career win total to 5,024.

Stevens is named on four mounts Jan. 13, including Tale of a Champion for trainer Kristin Mulhall in the San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT). He will ride maiden claimer Spirit of Lindy for trainer Mike Mitchell in the first, maiden Tiz the Truth for fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert in the fourth, and maiden Going Back to Cali for Paul Aguirre in the sixth.

STEVENS' SLIDESHOW

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